For the love of basketball: How this Muslimah is challenging FIBA’s hijab ban


Bilqis Abdul-Qaadir, 26, was an exceptional high school basketball player. As her school’s valedictorian, she excelled both on the court and in the classroom. She ultimately went on to set the Massachusetts state record for both boys and girls for most points scored (Abdul-Qaadir scored a record 3,070 points, breaking the previous record of 2,740) during her senior year.

As her illustrious career continued, Abdul-Qaadir went on to sign with University of Memphis, where she played for four years. She was awarded the United States Basketball Association’s “Most Courageous” award in 2011 for being the first covered Muslim woman to play in NCAA history. Hopes for a post-college basketball career in Europe were crushed, however, when the International Basketball Federation (FIBA) notified her of their ban on headgear. Choosing faith over sport, Abdul-Qaadir did not go on to play professional international basketball and has instead worked on petitioning FIBA’s ban, becoming an activist in her own right.

In a short film released by Pixela Pictura, Uninterrupted, Great Big Story and CNN films, Abdul-Qaadir tells her story. The film is part of an upcoming documentary called “Life Without Basketball.” Her passion for the game is evident as the film showcases her as a Graduate Assistant on the women’s basketball staff at the University of Memphis. The scenes are emotional, as she watches the young players play the game she so intensely loves.

She emotionally admitted, “It’s hard being a young Muslim woman in America. You have to be strong, regardless. It takes strength to walk outside and look different than everybody else.”

Abdul-Qaadir goes on to talk about the stereotypes people have about Muslim women, that they’re docile and quiet. Although she defies those stereotypes and remains strong, she admits that at times she felt taking her hijab off in order to play professionally.

“Is it worth? Do you want to conform?” she asked herself.

Several athletes and rights activists have joined in the fight for getting FIBA to lift their “hijab ban.” From LeBron James to Moya Dodd, a  former Australian soccer player and FIFA council member, people have been using the hashtag #FIBAAllowHijab in anticipation for FIBA’s ruling on headgear today, January 27, 2017.

There remains hope, however. The Fédération Internationale de Football Association (FIFA) lifted a similar “hijab ban” in 2014, allowing female Muslim soccer players to play, hijab in tact.

It’s critical to have visibly Muslim athletes (á la Ibtihaj Muhammed). This not only encourages young Muslims to participate in sports and lead healthier lifestyles, but it is also a huge part of representation. It’s imperative that all kids, no matter the color of their skin, their gender, or what faith they believe in, feel represented in all matters of life–especially sports.


Photo: Drew Canavan, Indiana State University Media Relations

This piece will be updated pending the FIBA rule on allowing headgear in games today.